This is the seventh year for bluebird nest boxes on the 23-acre campus of The Williamsport Home.
Over the years, the number has increased from 16 to 19 boxes, and so has the interest of the retirement facility's residents in the events that go on during the nesting season.
Nesting season is from April to August. Presently, seven residents help in the weekly monitoring of the nests, which is done with as little disturbance as possible.
The birds usually tolerate this human interference quite well, but occasionally show displeasure by dive bombing the monitors to drive them away.
The bluebird is everyone's favorite. They are mentioned in song and literature more often than any other bird because - in addition to being one of the nicest-looking birds in Pennsylvania - they represent emotions of joy, cheerfulness, happiness and contentment,. But life is not always a "bed of roses" for this "bluebird of happiness."
Challenges can occur during the normal cycle of nest building, egg laying, incubation or the nestling phases that present situations the birds need to deal with, and they don't give up readily.
Several years ago, Box No. 2 had a poorly constructed bluebird nest that was doomed for failure. The five eggs laid were removed, one of the monitors reconstructed the nest and the eggs were replaced. The female accepted this disturbance and proceeded to successfully incubate them and five nestlings eventually were fledged.
This year that same box, which is located close to the busiest building on the campus, had a nest with four eggs. The nest area became a very noisy construction site.
The pole and box had to be temporarily moved 25 feet away and was propped against a gazebo. After eight hours in this spot, it was returned to the original location. Throughout this disturbance, the female continued to incubate the eggs. Subsequently, all of the eggs hatched and the nestlings were successfully fledged.
Box No. 12 had a pair of bluebirds that already successfully raised a brood of five and then re-nested. This time, four light blue eggs were laid. A house wren raided the nest and removed two of the eggs and destroyed them. The female bluebird returned and laid another egg and this made a clutch total of three.
A wren guard was placed on the box, which was accepted by the female and she proceeded with incubation and eventually fledged the three nestlings.
At the retirement center, the birds have lots of choices for nest sites. In April, a pair of bluebirds checked out the well-constructed Box No. 17.
For a number of weeks, they were seen perched on and sometimes entering the box.
However, when it came time for egg laying, curiously, they chose a neighboring box about 75 feet away, which had seen better days.
Over the years, that box had raised numerous broods of bluebirds and there was a strong sentimental attachment, so when the landlords moved into retirement, they took it along and erected it in front of their new apartment at The Williamsport Home.
Close by was a large hanging plant filled with very colorful and attractive flowers and this may have been the reason for their choice of sites. The roof had a hole in it and needed other repairs.
A few days after the fourth light blue egg was laid, a storm with a lot of wind and rain caused the pole and box to fall and the eggs rolled out on the ground and were destroyed, making the third nest failure during this past April and May.
The pair didn't give up and about two weeks after this disaster, they re-nested in Box No. 17 and subsequently laid four light blue eggs, which were successfully incubated and the four nestlings fledged.
The high point of bluebirds fledged was in 2007, which was the second year of the nest boxes existence, when a total of 58 eggs were laid and 45 baby bluebirds fledged.
This year, 41 eggs were laid and 30 nestlings fledged. Tree swallows for the first time out-numbered bluebirds with a total of 49 eggs laid and 38 baby birds fledged.
Chickadees attempted to build their moss nest numerous times over the past seven years, but because of harassment from house sparrows and house wrens, their nests were never successful.
This year, in Box No. 16, they laid six eggs and were able to successfully incubate them and, for the first time, chickadee nestlings were fledged.
There is a lot of joy in being a bluebird landlord, all you need to do to become one is to put up a nest box in your backyard, and they will eventually come.
Eister is Bluebird Trail coordinator at the Williamsport Home.